Avocados have become one of our most popular fruits in recent years. Their health benefits are plentiful, and they contain vitamins, minerals and essential and good fats that the body needs. They are the main ingredient of guacamole, as well as being a great ingredient in many smoothies and shakes.
But sometimes it can be difficult to know when they are ripe. Their skin does not always tell you as much as you can know from other fruits’ skins, such as a banana, which will gradually blacken, or even some citrus fruits, which can wrinkle notably when they are past their best.
Often, we cut into avocados and find that the inside is mushy and blackish, or that it is still not yet fully ripe and the flesh is still too hard to release from the skin easily. This can be an expensive mistake to make, as avocados are among the more pricey fruits available.
So how do we make sure we know they are ripe and at their best for eating? Here is a great guide to just that problem!
As with other fruits, avocados need to be stored appropriately. For many people, the instinct is to put the avocado straight in the fridge. But this may not be the best way to make sure that it ripens well, or that it ripens quickly.
Usually it is better to keep avocados at room temperature. After all, we buy them in the supermarket from the unrefrigerated fruit and vegetable section.
You are actually best to keep them at room temperature wrapped in either a paper bag or wrapped in some kitchen roll or a paper towel. You could even use a kitchen towel of the type you use for drying dishes. They do not need to be too tightly sealed; just make sure they are generally covered over.
The reason for this is that the bag or towel helps to trap the ethylene gas that the fruits release, and this is a gas and process that speeds up the ripening.
In practical terms, avocados are fruits that can be bruised easily, so this wrapping also protects them from day to day damage. If bruised, an avocado will blacken on the inside and the flesh will not be as plentiful or as edible, so to maximize your pleasure – and the value of the fruit – you want to make sure they stay undamaged.
Make sure they are not near heaters or sources of direct light
The wider climatic conditions in which you keep an avocado influence its ripening and its remaining in good condition.
Remember that although it can look quite large and dark and robust, an avocado is actually a very delicate fruit, susceptible to damage. The skin is not actually very thick – much thinner than bananas or melons, for example – so you need to make sure it is not affected by extremes of temperature, as the skin may be damaged by them and the actual fruit affected negatively, with browning on the inside.
Make sure to keep them out of direct heat or too strong a level of sunlight. They are fine in normal household conditions, so long as they are not placed too near any direct heat source. Even a radiator nearby may damage them, so keep them in a space that is neither too warm, nor too cold. As they are sensitive fruits, room temperature in a typical house is fine, so long as the room itself is not overfilled by direct sunlight.
Keep Avocados Away from Other Fruits
Put them away from apples, bananas, and tomatoes
Avocados prefer solitude! If you house them in a fruit bowl with too many other fruits, their ripening processes get disrupted.
The above fruits – bananas, apples, tomatoes – are especially likely to affect an avocado’s ripening, but other fruits also inhibit the speed with which an avocado reaches its peak point of taste and texture.
These other fruits actually, like avocados, emit gasses as they ripen, and these gasses can interfere with the ripening processes of other fruits. Apples, for example, emit quite high quantities of ethylene gas as they ripen, and the abundant presence of this gas from other fruits is not conducive to the optimum ripening of an avocado.
It can be easy to forget this kind of thing, as you unpack the shopping and fill the fruit bowl, but it is important to know that if you place avocados alongside other fruits, they will not thank you! Give them their own space – and at room temperature.
Ethylene gas is a powerful gas in the context of the life of a fruit. It is an agent that accelerates the ripening processes in fruits, allowing them to develop the flavor and texture suitable to eating. The gas is obviously invisible and harmless to us, but it can sometimes mean that a fruit very suddenly becomes ripe and then overripe – past its best – and this is much harder to observe or control if fruits are piled together.
Avocados are best left to ripen in isolation. Be reassured, this does not mean it necessarily takes too long for them to ripen, certainly not if they are nicely wrapped in a cloth and can ripen through the effects of their own emissions of ethylene.
Check Them Regularly
Give the avocado a gentle squeeze each day
You will likely have had moments when you are unsure if an avocado is ripe, only to cut into it and find that it is either unripe – or too ripe to be enjoyed. It’s a common problem, and if you are wanting to use it in a meal or recipe, it is really frustrating. It is also a waste of what is often quite a lot of money, if you get the timing wrong with a few avocados all at once.
The squeezing actually serves a purpose, as it helps release ethylene gas that assists the fruit in ripening. By squeezing the fruit gently each day, you increase the chances of this gas being released and therefore ripening the fruit.
Given how easily an avocado can bruise, you do not need to squeeze hard. Just push in enough that you feel a slight give in the flesh. If you have to push too hard to get some give, the fruit is not yet ripe. By contrast, if the fingers sink in, the fruit is almost certainly black inside and not usable.
You will soon get the feel for when a fruit is ripe if you give a little squeeze to it every day. Over time, it could save a lot of waste, as well as the waste of a bit of money!
Ripe avocados will be slightly soft when squeezed
This is the ideal texture to look for in an avocado. Slightly soft. Not too soft, but definitely not too hard either, or you will have difficulty cutting out the stone and maximizing the amount of flesh inside. Given how healthy avocados are, you want to get as much of the flesh as you can.
Avocados also need to be soft to be used in many recipes, so it really is important to get this right. If you are making guacamole it will need whipping or mixing up easily. And if you are cutting it or slicing it to top a poached egg or be part of a salad or sandwich, you will also need to have the flesh neatly arranged, which is impossible to do with an unripe avocado or one that has become mushy.
Problems to avoid
If you cut open an avocado too early and find that it is not yet ripe, unfortunately, you cannot then just leave it to ripen and think it will do so naturally. Alas, it will ripen very quickly, but it will blacken as it does so, and you will likely be unable to serve it, and will not feel like using it for anything.
Be careful to take the steps we have outlined to maximize your value – and your eating pleasure.
Speed Up Ripening with Heat
Put the avocado in an oven-safe container
Very few people have ever realized this is an option!
Ripening avocados in an oven is actually a great way to quickly ripen them without having to wait days at room temperature.
However, you absolutely must put your fruits in an oven safe container. They do not need to be in the oven long – perhaps for around 10-20 minutes, with 30 minutes as the max. You then take them out and leave them to cool at room temperature for a few hours, and then you can place them in the refrigerator overnight.
The chances are that you will find some nicely ripe fruits come the following day.
Cook at 55°C for 10 minutes or until slightly soft
To be more specific still, you may find you need to cook an avocado. If so, cooking them at 55°C for 10 minutes or until they’re slightly soft will usually do the trick of ripening them.
This is a rare option, admittedly, and the other options are more commonly used, but do not be afraid to try it. You may even find that you like the taste of a warm avocado on a poached egg and toast instead of the usual cold slices we are used to!
Ripen with Banana
Place a banana, along with the avocados, in a closed brown paper bag
If you want your avocados to ripen fast, you can actually couple them with bananas. Though this needs careful attention, as it really will speed up the ripening process, it does work to quicken the way an avocado becomes usable.
The key is to use a paper bag or cloth or towel and wrap them together. The high levels of ethylene produced by both fruits will speed up the ripening processes significantly. Plus, the air circulation within the bag will also help the ripening process. In effect, what you are doing is creating a small microclimate that expedites ripening.
Having said that, you will still need to open the cloth and check the process daily, or you may find that quite quickly the fruits become overripe.
Do Not Overripen
Avocados that are overripe may have dark, leathery skin
Almost certainly, you will have at some point left an avocado out for too long and it’s become overripe. But what does an avocado that’s overripe look like?
Well, typically the skin will be changed to a dark leathery color and it will wrinkle too. If you happen to spot that it is about to ripen before you are ready to use it, then put it in the fridge. This will slow down the ripening process and enable you to have a day or two more to evaluate if it is good to use for whatever purpose you have in mind. In effect, you are extending its shelf life.
Remember, though, only do this to limit the ripening. Do not refrigerate a fruit you actually want to ripen fast!
Be wary of brown spots
Once a fruit has begun to overripen it will have a few darkish brown spots inside. If you open it and find a few of these, but the majority of the fruit is still green, then you are probably still good to use the fruit, even though it won’t be perfect. That said, you may not want to use it if you are planning on displaying the avocado at the top of a bit of toast, for example, or if you are selling the avocado in a cafe. In those circumstances, the look can be unappealing and people would rightly send it back.
Recipes, but not raw!
Actually, when an avocado is overripe by just a very little it can still be quite buttery and good as an ingredient in a recipe. These fruits can still be used for cooking, especially in dishes that require full flavor.
But you are best to avoid eating them on their own, as they can be a tad sour and leave a funny taste. If you find an avocado like that, get out the recipe book and see if you can use it in a dish!